YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County, Aimee Fifarek, says she considers the library’s resources for businesses among the system’s signature services.
Cardholders can access an array of services and databases at the library’s website, LibraryVisit.org, and Ohio residents who lack a library card can register for one online.
The library has always had resources targeted to business development and “basic information on how to teach them [but] for a long time we really didn’t speak to the business community in a language that they understood,” Fifarek says.
“As we started to get more into workforce development and helping individuals with resume writing and job searching, this is a natural outgrowth along with the rise of the entrepreneurial movement,” she continues. “We’ve been fortunate to have a business librarian on staff for some time and making those connections is the key part of all of this.”
Some of the library’s business development resources include LinkedIn Learning, ReferenceUSA and Gale Databases. The offerings can provide help for training, creating business plans or market research, she says.
“Libraries have been longtime providers of expensive, high-end databases that large companies can often afford but that small businesses can’t,” she says.
The Warren-Trumbull County Public Library also provides a variety of free online tools for entrepreneurs and small-business owners 24/7 through the library website, WTCPL.org, says library director Jim Wilkins.
“The library’s online resources offer information about marketing and help for typical business and financial challenges as well as tutorials to improve computer software and technology skills,” he says.
Cardholders have free access to research and learning platforms that offer interactive online learning options as well as access to e-books, audiobooks and magazines.
“Video tutorials on popular software applications, reference and mailing list databases, webinars on marketing and business topics, and business and financial e-books can all be accessed from outside the library,” Wilkins says.
In addition to LinkedIn Learning, resources the public library offers include AtoZ Databases, which can be used to search business and residential listings to create, download and contact mailing lists; Hoonuit, which provides short videos on covering software applications; Learning Express Library, an interactive online learning platform; and the Small Business Reference Center, which provides tools to start and help a business grow.
Access to some resources requires a library card number, which the library also offers online, Watkins says. Online tools can be found in the “Digital Library” section on the library’s website.
Among the greatest resources the Mahoning County library has is its staff, Fifarek says, although access has been limited because of restrictions in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus. One of the popular services available in normal times is Book A Librarian, which can provide help to individuals tailored to their needs.
“We see that as a growing aspect of our business going forward,” she says.
Business questions can now be emailed to staff through the Get Answers page under the Research tab.
“We have a whole bunch of library staff who are doing this from their home computers,” she says.
The library partners with Brite Energy Innovators, Youngstown Business Incubator and the Small Business Development Center at Youngstown State University to help people start a business, adds business librarian Ed Koltonski.
Many people who want to start a business might have a skill in a certain area but lack a business background, he notes.
Koltonski sees his role as being a resource to entrepreneurs.
“I like to give people as much agency as humanly possible when they’re working on a business plan,” he says. “I don’t want to sit down and do their business plan for them. I don’t want to do their research for them.”
A prospective business owner unable to complete a business plan on his own raises the concern that he might be unable to run the company.
“I look at my job here as getting people in touch with the resources that they need fundamentally,” Koltonski says.
Resources such as Gale Business DemographicsNow can be used to identify buying patterns within a specific market area or population.
Gale Business Plan Builder can be accessed through any web browser, unlike some alternatives that require access to installed programs that the entrepreneur might not be able to access outside of places like libraries.
“It’s a great collaboration tool. Multiple people can work on a business plan at once,” Koltonski says.
The Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County is in the top 10% of all libraries that have access to it across the country.
In addition to Koltonski and librarian Judith Jones, who works with the library’s job and career center, the library recently brought grants librarian Sally Freaney into the mix.
Freaney now has access from home to the Grant Center databases at Main Library so she can answer grant-related questions and help with basic research.
The library is getting strong email traffic and is working on adding phone access as well, Fifarek says.
“Those resources are going to increase exponentially when you can talk to a living person and not just email them,” she says.
As word of its resources and expertise grows, the need to create more space to connect people with the library’s resources is apparent, a factor that the upcoming renovation of Main Library will incorporate.
Plans are expected to include glass-enclosed study rooms and small meeting rooms on the second floor where people can meet in more privacy than the current configuration permits, Fifarek says.
The Trumbull library recently announced plans to renovate and expand its main branch in Warren, although specific accommodations for entrepreneurship resources are yet to be determined.
“We are still in the planning stages and nothing has been finalized yet,” Watkins says.
Pictured: Even with branches shut down, the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County is still seeing strong interest in its business resources, says Aimee Fifarek.